There are thousands of productivity tools out there. Whilst some can be really effective and free up your time, others can draw you into a subscription-based service that you never end up using.
Erik Fisher talks about the different productivity tools that are out there, how to identify your productivity needs, and how to avoid shiny object syndrome.
He explains how you can fix productivity pain points without using external tools, the mental strategies you can use to avoid FOMO purchases, and the life hacks you can use to increase your productivity.
Erik Fisher of Beyond the To-Do List
Website: Beyond the To-Do List
Facebook: Beyond the To-Do List
Erik is the producer and host of the long-running Beyond The To-Do List Podcast. For over ten years, he’s talked with experts on how to implement productivity strategies in their personal and professional lives.
When Erik’s not thinking about productivity, he’s watching Star Wars or Marvel movies with his kids, singing karaoke in his head, or spending time with his wife of over 20 years
What you’ll learn in this episode
- [2:18] How podcasts changed Erik’s life and made him more productive.
- [5:54] Different definitions for productivity.
- [8:19] The “Pareto Principle” 80/20 rule of productivity.
- [9:10] How productivity tools can make you more productive.
- [10:20] How to categorise different productivity tools.
- [13:52] How to identify your productivity needs.
- [16:38] The interaction between systems and tools.
- [22:27] How to avoid shiny object syndrome.
- [25:28] How to know which provider has the best tool for you.
- [29:44] When it’s worth paying for productivity tools.
- [32:53] Why you should do a regular audit of your productivity tools.
- [36:47] How to fix productivity pain points without using external tools.
- [39:53] Mental strategies to avoid FOMO purchases.
- [42:30] Life hacks that can increase your productivity.
Resources mentioned in this episode
Please note that some of these are affiliate links and we may get a small commission in the event that you make a purchase. This helps us to cover our expenses and is at no additional cost to you.
Episode 157: Choose your weapon: selecting the right productivity tool for the job - with Erik Fisher of Beyond the To-Do List
Jeremy Cline 0:00
Before we start this episode, I'd like you to do something for me. So, take your phone out of your pocket or out of your bag, and have a quick look and see how many apps you've got on there which are intended to help your productivity. How many apps do you have which deal with your email or cloud storage or communication or project management? Now, how many of these tools do you actually use? How many of them do you know how to use all of the features that they have? How do you decide what tools are genuinely going to enhance your life and make you more productive and more effective at what you do? That's what we're going to talk about in this week's episode. I'm Jeremy Cline, and this is Change Work Life.
Jeremy Cline 1:01
Hello, and welcome to the Change Work Life podcast where we're all about beating the Sunday evening blues and enjoying Mondays again. If you want to know how you can enjoy a more satisfying and fulfilling working life, you're in the right place. I love productivity tools. In fact, I love anything which makes the things I do on a regular basis that bit easier. Trouble is, there are hundreds of tools to choose from, and I've more than once downloaded or signed up for something only never to use it. So, how do you choose the tools which would genuinely enhance your life and increase your productivity? And how do you avoid getting distracted by the next shiny object? To help answer these questions and more, I'm delighted to have as my guest this week, Erik Fisher. Erik is the host of the Beyond the To-Do List podcast on which he talks to experts about how to implement productivity strategies in your personal and professional life. His guests have included serial entrepreneur, Michael Hyatt, and Atomic Habits author James Clear. There's a book which has been recommended several times on this show. Erik, welcome to the podcast.
Erik Fisher 2:11
Thank you for having me. Great to be here.
Jeremy Cline 2:13
Why don't you start by introducing yourself and telling us a bit about you?
Erik Fisher 2:17
Yeah, well, I too have been a fan of productivity for actually longer than I was even aware of. I was an early reader, adopter, whatever you want to call it, of getting things done, but not as early as others that came out in 2001. And I think that's kind of, you know, before that it was Franklin Covey, the paper planner kind of thing that was going on in Corporate America, and elsewhere, I guess. And I was doing various jobs and then working in a cubicle and started thinking there's got to be a better way to do this and started to hack the efficiency of what I could do there. But aside from that, my second love, so to speak, came about in 2005, when I was sitting there doing data entry, and iTunes at the time, as it was called, said, 'I have an update.' And I said, 'Well, then, I have a reason to go get a coffee and come back and keep listening to my music.' And when I sat down, I saw in the sidebar, it said podcasts. And I clicked on it and thought, 'What is this?' And I mean, I knew what an iPod was. And I thought, 'Well, this is a strange word, what is this?', and suddenly discovered something that would change my life, which was that it was time delayed or radio shows, basically, that you could pause at any time and pick back up, or even relisten to. So, it was like TiVo, if we remember what that is, we're kind of past that point now, but TiVo for radio. And at that point, I thought, 'Oh, there's no stopping me now, I don't have to just sit here and listen to music while I do data entry, I can be educated or informed or entertained.' And that was early days, that was 2005. It existed before then, but not by that many years, maybe one or two or three years at that point. And so since then, I've co-hosted different shows, but in the summer, or late summer, August of 2012, I started the Beyond the To-Do List show. Because I just felt like there was a need for that, for me, I needed to do a show. And I was co-hosting a show at that time, back in earlier that year, and that person had decided to phase that show out of their collective of podcasting. And I said, that's totally fine, that gives me the freedom to go run and do my own thing finally. And so, I did. And I just started interviewing people. Before I started, I thought, well, I want to talk to people about how they do the work that they do, how do they manage their time, I started writing down all these lists of people and topics, and I thought this kind of sounds like productivity, but it's not productivity, it's beyond the to-do, and I hit my self in the head and said, there's the title. It's Beyond the To-Do List.
Jeremy Cline 4:57
Amazing. So, what else do you have going on apart from podcast? Is that your main gig, or do you still work in corporate, or what else do you do?
Erik Fisher 5:05
I have held other positions, mostly in the social media slash marketing realm, as a day job throughout the series as it's gone on. And yeah, so podcasting is still very much a side hustle for me, though, year over year, it does better each year. And so, at some point, it would be nice to be a full-time podcaster, branch out and create new shows. In fact, I've helped other friends of mine kickstart slash, not in kickstarter, but in kickstart, like start up their shows, I have two or three now that I'm supporting behind the scenes and help them launch.
Jeremy Cline 5:44
I often start these episodes with some definitions. So, let's start with one. How would you define productivity?
Erik Fisher 5:54
Well, it's interesting, because a lot of people would define productivity by a couple different ways. So, I'm going to define those first. One is people just decide, oh, well, productivity means getting things done. They adopt that David Allen mentality, and it just means getting more stuff done, getting the things done that are on the list. Very basic definitions. I like to be a little bit of a word nerd about it and say, well, the word productivity has the word produce in it. And whether that means you're producing, you're doing something, or you're creating something, those are two different avenues you can go down inside of that world, or in that word. But I like to go a little bit further and say there is one definition that a lot of people kind of subtly use without knowing they're doing it. And basically, the context for it is, you see your friend or your son or your daughter or something, you see a kid, and they're playing video games all day, and you go up to them and say, 'Can you please do something more productive with your time?' And what we're insinuating there is that what they're doing is not a good use of their time, and that they need to do something more worthwhile with their time. And I think that's also something to encompass in this definition. So, it's not just doing things, it's way more than just doing things or doing all the things or doing more things. In fact, it may be doing less things to do them with better quality. It may be creating something. But it also incorporates that definition of what are you using your time on, and is it worthwhile. And that can be self-defined, what is worthwhile, what is successful, in other words, what's the meaning for productivity for you. Well, you have to define that yourself. Now, you have other people telling you what it means when you have obligations to them, but you also need to have your own definition for yourself, in terms of what's worthwhile, what is your time worth, what are you using it on.
Jeremy Cline 7:51
That's really interesting. I've heard some people talk about the difference between being productive and being effective. So, if you're productive, you might get an absolute tonne of stuff done, none of which really makes much of a difference or moves the needle, or actually gets you any closer to anything. Whereas if you do less, but it's effective, then that's the stuff that's kind of worth doing, which I think kind of reflects what you've just been saying.
Erik Fisher 8:17
Yes, I agree. And the Pareto principle, the 80-20 rule, kind of speaks to that, where if you really take a look at what your output is, and what your end results are, 80% of your results are really coming from only 20% of what you're doing. And so, if you have 100% of what you're doing, and only 20% is really moving the needle, then you can get rid of a lot of that other 80% and still stay at the same level. Of course, we want to level up, so you could 30, 40, 50%, and double down, triple down on that original 20 that's yielding 80% of the results.
Jeremy Cline 8:55
I'll continue to use the word productive and productivity, because I think it's an easy shorthand. When it comes to productivity tools, what roles can those tools play in improving or increasing productivity?
Erik Fisher 9:10
Well, I think of this as kind of like a chef with his assortment of tools in the kitchen. They can do a lot on their own, you know, you can crack an egg and crack it right into the pan. But of course, that pan is a tool, right? You could skip cracking multiple eggs into something and then whisking it, and then pouring it in. You could crack each egg individually. But I think tools are essential. I think you can't really do much without them. That's not to say that you can't be productive without tools, you still have the ability to think, which is independent of anything else, you can do a lot just sitting in thinking, in fact, that's an underrated productivity tool that you all have at the ready at all times, with varying degrees of energy and attention. But I think tools are essential. I think, even if somebody was going to go purely analogue and forego digital tools, you're still using a utensil to write with or capture, and most likely paper or something along the lines to use that utility on to capture. So, you can't really ever truly escape tools.
Jeremy Cline 10:18
Can you kind of broadly categorise tools, so that people have got an idea as to what sort of thing they might need, some thinking you've got tools which help with tasks and workflows, you've got things that help with communications, you've got the tools which actually help you to do whatever the task is itself, is that a kind of helpful categorisation?
Erik Fisher 10:39
Yeah, there's a couple different ways that at least I bucket them, put them into buckets, so to speak. One is communication, any type of communication, whether that's an email tool, whether that's a messaging tool, like Slack, trying to think of what else, there are a few other ones. And of course, these go cross platform, whether it's desktop or its mobile device, or if you're using it on a tablet, or even a phone call or texting is a communication tool. So, all of those where you send and receive messages, whether that's micro level messages of sentences, or even just emojis, all the way up to, 'I have sent you the file that you can then look over and read.' Those are all communication tools. Now, some of those communication aspects filter into another realm of tools, which is basically your Google Docs, your Microsoft Teams, all the different project management tools, whether that's file management, or project management or organisation of the work as it filters through the workflow. And again, in those, you've got different places where people can comment, or tag you, et cetera, which brings in communication tools into the project management tools. Then, outside of project management tools and communication tools, I would say scheduling is probably its own thing. And again, some of that is integrated into the project management where you can schedule calls, you can schedule video, you can schedule Zoom calls, you can schedule Google Meet, podcast meetings and recordings, all of those good scheduling tools, I think anything that's time based and specific. Again, there's a little bit of branching over and crossover between tools in that regard as well. And then, I think there's the silo, there's kind of the note taking, capturing. synthesising, describing, describing is probably not the right word, trying to think of what a better word is, just where you're doing either your capturing, your brainstorming. And again, I think of this as a separate thing than the Google Docs and the project management, because that's kind of the organising and the holding of the information and the moving and the collaborating. I'm talking like, the best way I can put it is if I have a legal notepad sitting here on my desk, but a digital format of that, and whether that's capturing audio and video and different things like that. Basically, a digital archive, but it's living and breathing, kind of like the second brain that you can use. I think there's one more. I'm thinking there's probably one more in terms of category, but what I've covered already is the broad strokes, I think. There's nuance there, for sure, though.
Jeremy Cline 13:19
And I guess there's, for want of a better word, analytics tools. And I'm thinking there like spreadsheets is the best thing, you can put things in a spreadsheet, and it will spit out some data if you put in the formulae or, yes, it can be used as a form of database, but where it really comes into its own is when you're trying to work out an average of something or account of something or something like that.
Erik Fisher 13:42
Yeah, that's true. I would say that data tools of any sort, and again, those integrate into a lot of these other ones as well.
Jeremy Cline 13:50
So, presumably, tools are there to fill something which you don't have. So, how do you first identify what it is that you're looking the tool to fulfil?
Erik Fisher 14:04
That's a great question. I think that, oftentimes, we don't think about our needs first, we kind of go with the, 'Oh, well, everybody says I have to have this.' So, we grab all the things, we grab all the tools. It's kind of like Christmas time, and someone says, 'Here you go, I bought you a toolkit', and you open it up, and it's got standard things in there, a hammer, a wrench, measuring tape and things like that. It's got a lot of the standard things in it. And so, we go by just saying, 'Okay, well, I've got that covered, I've got my email client covered for desktop and mobile, I've got my documents, I've got my project manager', which by the way, to-do lists and all those kinds of different to-do list apps, I would say, go into that project manager category. I think that was the one thing I was kind of thinking where does that fit. That's where I would put it, although I think that that's sometimes on the separate personal side of things, instead of the shared collective side of things, but we can discuss definitions there. But I think that, again, going back to that, I think that people don't necessarily think of what their needs are first, whether they have to have, I think there are some basics that you definitely have to have, I think you have to have some sort of choice email client, if it's up to you, you may not have a choice, depending upon your role and who's managing your IT, but there's email, there's calendar, for sure, and scheduling, there's your to-do list or, again, the collaborative to-do list, based on that, you may, again, not have a choice about some sort of project management system where you're tracking what comes in at the front end and how it makes its way through to the final product, or various stages in between, and maybe pausing and moving them out of the flow until it's time again. But I think, yeah, there's definitely something to be said for, you need to pause and say, sometimes we don't discover what our needs are for tools, until we really discuss or decide or feel, for that matter, our pain points and say, 'This just seems to be taking too long. Why?' Well, there's a missing cog in the flow, and it's this specific tool.
Jeremy Cline 16:18
It kind of flows nicely to what I was thinking about the difference between systems and tools and how the two might interact, and whether it makes sense to get the system clear for doing something, achieving something, before picking the tool.
Erik Fisher 16:38
Yeah, I think so. I mean, I think that, again, your approach, depending on, again, hypothetically, depending upon what it is, if you have a workflow, if you have a system that has to be followed, and you have no choice about it, then the one thing might be that you could figure out a tool. For me personally, I figured out a way to pull data from a system, this was years ago now, I think almost 10, more than 10, more like 15 years ago, something along those lines, I didn't have a choice about which tools I got to use on my Dell desktop, computer in my cubicle. But I did have a way to figure out, well, here's the workflow they tell us to do, but I think I can do that workflow better. And as long as I still hit the same mile markers, or worked on the same timeline, I discovered that, through analysing over and over again and repeatedly doing what the workflow was assigned to me as, and what the system was to do that, that there were certain places where, well, if I don't wait for them to deliver that info to me, and I actually go out ahead of time each morning and pull the data myself, I can do it sooner, and then I'm done sooner. And I can even set up a second automation to run it again in the afternoon. I'm ahead of the game, and I'm not sitting here waiting. I know this is in vague terms, so you can't really understand it. But to me, it was like eye opening and kind of broke my brain as to, wait, I can be so much more efficient. And again, I can run out of a system, I can run and pull the data at the end of the day before, and then have it sitting there for me first thing in the morning to work on, versus waiting two hours into the day the next morning for somebody to then email it to me. And it was just little pieces like that. It's not necessarily tool based, but it is noticing a loophole that doesn't get me in trouble, I'm still doing things according to the workflow and the plan and everything that's assigned, but I'm just doing it, actually, I'm doing it ahead of time, I'm working ahead of schedule.
Jeremy Cline 18:49
Something I found really helpful is templates and standard operating procedures. So, to give an example, in my day job as a lawyer, we're expected to raise bills and that kind of thing. And I've always found it more effective if I send a quick note to clients beforehand, saying, 'I'm planning on doing a bill for this, this is what it covers. Let me know if you've got any queries.' And then, you could have a few days before doing that. And I am in a fortunate position that I've got a PA who can help me out with those administrative tasks, but I found, well, first of all, rather than just typing up all these emails myself, I could just put it all on a piece of paper, print it out multiple times, and then just scribble on it and give it to her to then do things on my behalf. That saved me huge amounts of time. And then, when we were in lockdown situations, and my PA was sitting 40 miles from me rather than 40 centimetres, I started doing the same thing but instead using a spreadsheet, just tapping on there the fields effectively that I want wanted her to do, and then I could send that to her, and discovered that was actually a heck of a lot more efficient than writing things down on lots of individual bits of paper. So, that's one of the things where it wasn't that I needed any kind of new tool, but it was a question of adjusting the system to make it more effective.
Erik Fisher 20:20
And something similar to me happened, I was enrolling adult students in a master's programme for teaching, I was basically an admissions counsellor or admissions officer in higher ed and for master's programmes. And there were varying degrees of emails, stating different things, like we still need this from you, or you're in to the class, you've been accepted, different things like that. What I found was, I was able to take the emails that my predecessors in the role had been using, where they would go, they would open up the, I mean, this is a while now ago, they would open up the Word doc, copy the text, go into their email and paste it, and then adjust the name and all that kind of stuff, and then send it. And they were doing that over and over and over again, singular emails. And instead, what I did was, I figured out, well, if I go into that one email, and then there's this group of people, and I pull that spreadsheet out of the system, and I do a mail merge quickly, I've then sent 15, 20 emails to those specific people, instead of copying and pasting. What would take them half an hour to an hour to do repeatedly took me 10, 15 minutes total. And so, I was running circles around everybody, because I just decided, well, I can save this, I can literally double click that Word doc, and it opens up in Microsoft Outlook the mail merge process that I'd already created and asked for the datasheet and all those kinds of things, and just hit send. And it was done. And so, that was my hack.
Jeremy Cline 22:01
What's interesting there is that it sounds like you probably created that with stuff that you already had available to you, so your email program and Microsoft Excel. It's very easy to be seduced by something new, but how can you figure out whether or not what you really need is something new or whether you've already got the tools at your disposal to do the job?
Erik Fisher 22:26
Yeah, and again, I think that goes back to what's the pain point. Is it just that you want something shiny or new? Do you really need to upgrade that iPhone? And if so, why do you think you need that? Well, I need better pictures. Yeah, well, are your pictures that you're taking right now or your video good enough? Is it that it's clunky and slow? Do you really feel like you're sitting and waiting? It may be a slow processor issue, it may have run its course. Right now, I haven't upgraded my iPhone now, well, I did upgrade it two years ago, but the only reason I did was because my mother-in-law needed a new phone, hers had been five, six years old. So, I had given her my new one that was one year old and got a new one. But now, the one I have, I have no reason to upgrade. And I know Apple hates me for saying that. Although it should be a bragging thing for them, that their stuff lasts long. It works great. I don't have any need. My pictures are perfect, as far as I can see, I've already skipped one round, I intend to skip as many as I can, just to kind of say, well, one, to save money, and two, just to kind of see if I can do it, how long can I go without having the need to upgrade. At this point, there's nothing I can conceive of, and this gets back to the want versus need, there's nothing I can think of that they would come out with that would be a game changer that I would have to have. That said, as tech constantly evolves, sometimes we then move into roles or have different tasks that we're unaware of now that we'll need something for it later. So, it is kind of cool to just take, allow yourself, you have to set yourself up ahead of time, and you can allow yourself to go take a look at something that might fill a need or a want or maybe just scratch an itch imagination wise, but that doesn't mean you have to do it. And you can wait. Most things you can wait for. So, I know that doesn't necessarily answer the question proper, but it's kind of inching towards it.
Jeremy Cline 24:26
I'm going to set you a challenge. I had my last phone for six and a half years before I upgraded just at the start of this year. So, yeah, see how close you can get to that.
Erik Fisher 24:37
The farthest I've gone so far, I think I went about three years at one point, maybe four. And part of that was because I was able to, through Apple Care, swap it out and have a brand-new version of the same one that I had, so it lasted even longer. But again, they've been getting better and stronger and tougher and more powerful. So, at this point, I probably could go that long.
Jeremy Cline 25:02
So, we've reached a conclusion that a new tool would be helpful. And then, you start looking out there, and you find 40 different products, which potentially do the same thing. And maybe a way you can start is by figuring out just what are the must-haves, but then trying to go through and filter this enormous list of things, where do you start?
Erik Fisher 25:29
I'll be honest, I will actually look for referrals first. I will often, I haven't done it in a while, I haven't had to, because I've really slowed down on investigating, fully through and through investigating adopting a new tool. Occasionally, I'll just adopt one quickly, because, oh, that looks cool, that fits that need, and I grab it. But I will go through and post on social in the right places, I'll go on LinkedIn, I'll go on Facebook, and even Twitter, and just post something along the lines of what's your favourite, insert one here, what's your favourite email client for mobile. I try to make it specific, unique and kind of do some of the vetting ahead of time, so people aren't throwing out, 'I like this, but it's on desktop.' I didn't ask for that. So, I try to narrow it down and ask specific questions. And then, I see what people come through with. And I don't just say, 'What's your favourite?' I asked, 'And why?', so that people will kind of give me what's the killer feature that makes it the thing that you left behind. And it's like having a, what's the word, not a beta tester group, but like when you get a group of people together to sample something. Anyway, it's a group of people who are basically giving you their feedback, their referrals, it's almost like getting a more trusted version of an Amazon review, because it's actual people you know, that you're connected with. And I'll engage with them, like, I'll ask them, 'So, what were you using before this?', to see kind of what their process was. Because I don't want to just say that I know best after looking at all the possible options. I want to hear what some real-life friction may have been for some of the tools. One person may say, 'Oh, well, I chose this.' And I ask, 'What were you using before?' And they give me one that I have really liked, and they've jumped away from it. And I want to know why. Because I may not have any issue with it. Every single situation is unique when it comes to that, we all have different needs, different wants, different obligations, different blockers, or different people, there's like, 'Well, my IT people said that I have to use this one. But I found this works on top of it as a layer and I thought, oh, see, I didn't even know that that was possible.' So, don't go in just thinking you know everything. Start from a place of gathering trusted input first. That's typically what I do.
Jeremy Cline 28:01
And just as a side note on that, there's a huge amount of value in finding out what the things you use regularly can actually do. So, I'm sure that there are a series of shortcuts or features or stuff that I just don't have a clue about. But if I actually did five minutes research, I could find some really useful hacks.
Erik Fisher 28:23
Well, and to that point, so what I was saying, there have been times where I've asked for something, and people have told me 'Well, I use this for this.' And I said, 'Well, I'm using that, and I was going to switch away from it, but you're telling me it does what I want it to, and I didn't even know that.' So, again, getting those knowledgeable people to speak into what it is they're using and why can illuminate possibilities for the tools you're already using, whether it's the one you're using for that, or a different one you're using that can then, you already have it, you can use it to sub it out.
Jeremy Cline 28:57
Tools can get really, really expensive, especially if you buy lots and lots and lots. But quite often, you'll find something that's free. So, to give you an example, I have a printer, the branded sort of interface that came with it was absolutely rubbish. And so, I just wanted a new software which I could use for scanning documents, scanning them as PDFs. And I found a couple of recommended free ones and a few paid for ones. I thought, 'Why on earth would I ever go through the paid for ones when the free ones are going to do just what I need?' So, when do you decide that it's worth paying for a service versus seeing what's out there for free?
Erik Fisher 29:44
Yeah. For me, it really comes down to, there are different tools that I've used, and sometimes, one of the most often things that we find, like for example, my podcast app that I use is Overcast. I love it. It's what I've used for years. I pay for it, one, because I want to support the creator, because the software is amazing, but two, paying for it, and I think it's an annual plan of like maybe $20, something like that, removes all the ads from inside of the app as well, which is great. So, it's a no brainer for me. It's twofold, it's support the creator, as well as remove friction or barrier or annoyance for myself. And so, on an individual basis, you have to decide for yourself. Now, when we're talking unlocks a whole new realm of features by jumping from one tier to another, or going from the free version to the paid version, oftentimes, it'll unlock maybe a new quantity of something, or like I think of for podcasters or creators out there across the board, the Descript editing tool that allows you, it transcribes things, there's different levels there, you jump up from one level to a higher one, and you get way more transcription time. And so, if you need more time, it just really comes down to, well, yeah, I've hit the limit, however many times, and I've had to pause and wait till the next month, to where my quota re-ups, and then do more, and it's like, well, that's slowing me down. So, is it worth it to pay an extra month, or is it worth it to pay an annual fee just to get that out of the way? What else do I get with that, bells and whistles, there's different things there. So, it really comes down to, again, it comes down to your unique need or want, and if the free version is getting you there, and you don't need to pay, then I don't know that I would. I try to use as many free things as I can. But there is a value in paying for something, to have it work more solidly, sometimes you even get faster, more intense support, intense isn't the right word, but more substantial support for the product, priority VIP lane type stuff, if you're a paying customer versus a free one. But yeah, it really comes down to, when you're going through your workflow, if you keep coming up against a hurdle, and paying to unlock features or time or access is going to save you that time, sometimes it's worth it. Sometimes it's not, and there might be another free one out there that gives you a higher limit based on what it is you're doing.
Jeremy Cline 32:26
I guess, especially if you're paying, and you're seeing costs add up, but even if you've got a whole selection of free tools, do you see a benefit in kind of doing a tool audit? And I guess free stuff, it doesn't necessarily matter if you keep it, unless it's taking up disk space or something like that, but for pay tools, would you recommend doing an audit of what you've got and seeing what you use, what you don't use and what you can make more out of?
Erik Fisher 32:53
Oftentimes, what will happen for me, and this is the point in time where I'll do that audit is when I'm going to reinstall everything, either on a brand-new computer, or I've wiped it clean, and I'm doing a fresh instal. To varying degrees, we don't need to do that, I used to do that way more in the past. These days, computers are so powerful, that really just restarting something is fine, and keeping a good maintenance schedule works. But I used to do it all the time, where I would go through, and I would say, 'Okay, well, let's look and see what I have on here now before I wipe it clean and reinstall it, or I'm going to get that new one and transfer everything over.' I look through the list and say, 'Well, wait.' And actually, there are certain program, like Clean My Mac is one, where it gives you, I think that's what it's called, yeah, I think it's called Clean My Mac, where you can go in and see all the different, it's the uninstall feature, where it will clean uninstall every remnant of a program, but it'll show you the last time any of the programs were used. And so, I'll start there, I'll look through and say, 'Oh, well, I haven't used that in a year. I haven't use that in six months. I haven't used that in three months.' And you kind of decide, you know what, I don't need that anymore, because I don't do that anymore, I have something else that covers that. And we just don't think about it. And so, opening up your app folder on your computer, this is one way, this is one aspect of doing an audit, opening up the app folder on your computer and just scrolling and seeing what all is in here. I mean, partly, one reason to clean it out is if you're struggling to find the apps, I know you can always hit search and type the name of the app, and it'll bring it up, but sometimes, if you're struggling to find a tool, it's because it's buried under other tools. It's like cleaning out, the toolbox is so full, you can't get to the things other than if it's the thing that you've laid right on top. I know that's a different kind of a metaphor, but still. There's definitely a season for that. I think, for me, I tend to do every six months to a year, just kind of do a kind of, not an intense audit, but more a passive audit. But definitely, every year to two years, I'll kind of do, even these days, kind of a, you know what, I've got time, I'm going to clean everything out, I'm going to make sure, I mean, I've got regular backups happening anyway, but just like, I'll hook up a spare drive that I do this with, hard drive, external, and I'll just select everything and drag it all over and just watch it all just populate and save and make sure I've got a copy. And then, I'll go through and wipe the computer and just reinstall everything, but I'll be choosy and picky as I curate what goes back on.
Jeremy Cline 35:40
One thing I've noticed with my phone, it's an Android phone, it'll say permissions have been disabled for the following apps because you haven't used them for so long. And it kind of makes you think, 'Right, well, if I haven't been using it for that length of time, I wonder whether that means that I don't actually need it anymore, and I could just go ahead and uninstall it.'
Erik Fisher 35:59
And that's great. I haven't seen that in a while.
Jeremy Cline 36:01
You've mentioned the corporate setting. One of the frustrations occasionally I find is that you're very limited on the things that you can do. So, it might just be certain Microsoft products, there's a good chance that you can't add anything else because your IT team will just hit the roof, and you're not allowed to instal anything, you wouldn't even be able to, you just can't get that far. But occasionally, I'll think, 'Ah, I know that this sort of tool exists, it's a shame that we can't do it, it'd be really helpful.' Let's assume that you can't necessarily persuade your IT team to get a new tool, how can you find out how to hack what you've already got to do what you want it to?
Erik Fisher 36:46
Well, and this is kind of what I did with, I was stuck in Microsoft's world, I had to use Sheets and Outlook and, sorry, Excel, Sheets is Google, Excel and Word and Outlook and PowerPoint, I had to use them. But what I figured out was, kind of what you were talking about earlier, where you can go out and look for training videos that there might be ways around it without adding a tool to the mix at all, that you can still achieve what it is you're wanting to achieve just by, kind of like what I did, where I found out I could create Word doc templates, that as I just double clicked them, they opened up automatically in Outlook and asked for the inputs that I needed from Excel, et cetera. And it was those three different, it was Excel, Word and Outlook all working together to create almost a tool that didn't exist, but was a collaborative tool that crossed, worked between those three individual tools. So, I would highly suggest looking at what is the need again, it comes back to that all the time, what's the need or what's the want that you have. Start Googling and/or ask some people, like I did, where I ask people for help, what's the need, what's the want, and start to see what's on YouTube for ways to hack the tools you have, first and foremost. If there then isn't a way to do that, maybe there's a way to, I don't know, maybe you bring in your, this is also something I did, where I would create presentations in Keynote on my personal MacBook that I would bring into work, and then I would get it as close to the way I wanted it to look and everything, and then I would export it out and open it up in my Dell computer at my desktop with PowerPoint. Not everything would translate, but then at least, I had the core of it there, and I would then tweak it.
Jeremy Cline 38:45
I never thought before that something to try is either to search Google or to search YouTube, can I use Excel to dot-dot-dot, and just see what pops up. Because I'm sure there's an awful lot of stuff in there. Let's finish on two things, which probably get people to buy tools that they don't need. So, on the one hand, you've got shiny object syndrome, you see something, you think, 'Ooh, shiny, new, I've got to have that.' And then, on the other hand, there can be FOMO, Fear Of Missing Out. And I'm thinking in particular, I use or I have in the past used something called AppSumo where you can get usually cheap versions of things, cheap because they're new, and they're still building up their user base, but in time, they will be paid for, and they will cost more money. And you see something and think, 'Oh, I could use that.' And sometimes you can, but I've definitely got the things which I haven't used. Can you talk us through some of the, I don't know, maybe they're mental strategies that stop you getting this new stuff, either because it's shiny object or because it's FOMO?
Erik Fisher 39:53
Well, I think it has to do with almost adopting something I kind of do with my kids, saying, 'Well, here's the thing, there's this video game coming out that you really, really want, and you know it's coming, and it's purely for pleasure, it has no practical, although there is productive value in resting, and video games can be resting, but overall, you want something that I'm not going to pay for, and I don't necessarily need to, unless it's a game that I want, but how are you going to pay for that?' I put it back on them, I give them the idea of how are you going to pay for that. And so, adopting that for myself, kind of seeing, oh, well, I have a a gift certificate, or I have birthday money or Christmas, a holiday that gave me some amount of funds that I can hold on to until that time comes. Often, for example, for me, I can't think of the example specifically, but I know there was a specific tool, when it came to podcasting, that I wanted, and it might even be this microphone I'm using or the Rodecaster that I'm using, where I said, 'Well, I want to get that, and it would be worthwhile, so what am I going to do that's going to earn me the funds for that now?' And so, going in with that mentality of I won't get anything new until I can actually pay for it outright has helped often translate into software. And then, again, sometimes, what you do is you wait for the Black Friday deals, and you just get a bunch of stuff then, they super discount things then. And you just want to do your vetting ahead of time. It really is all about mentality, though, it's all about the perspective, it's all about going in with the shopping list to the store, and you're more likely to come out with just what you need, instead of all the extra things that you don't.
Jeremy Cline 41:56
I like the idea of the delayed gratification. So, you see something and think, 'Oh, I like that', and then maybe say, 'Okay, well, if I still want it in three months, then I'll get it.' Or maybe the event where you're going to get some money at Christmas or something like that. So, I think that's a great tester. This has been some fantastic tips, especially for a total geek like me, this has been absolutely awesome. What do you recommend for people if they're interested in finding out more about productivity, life hacks, that kind of thing, anything that we've talked about?
Erik Fisher 42:30
One of the things that actually I look at is Product Hunt, where they come out with a bunch of different things there. And what's cool is that's something you can get a daily email, or even a weekly email sent to you, and you can see what all the new products are that are out there, that are coming through, and you can kind of get early warning signs, or early adopter, kind of look them over and say, 'Okay, cool.' And again, it's a good way to practice that kind of delayed gratification and do it on a frequent basis where you're looking at, 'Oh, that's cool, I can see where that would be helpful, but I don't need it. Maybe if it comes out on sale or something, I could get it cheaper.' It's that kind of thing. It's almost just looking at stuff ahead of time. I know there's a couple other places that you can look to find things that work really well. One other place that I really trust, it's called The Sweet Setup, and they have a lot of different tool reviews and hardware reviews and workflow reviews for different tools that are out there. And I really trust them. So, that's again, one of those, I've kind of offloaded some of the investigation, of work on my own, to them, I'll go and check and see. They'll say, 'We've stacked all these', it's almost like Wirecutter or other sites like that, where it's, or consumer reports, we figured out what the best, insert tool or insert appliance here, is. But it's mainly productivity type stuff. So, again, that's The Sweet Setup.
Jeremy Cline 44:11
Fantastic, I'll look that one up, I've certainly not come across that one. If people want to find you, find your podcast, get in touch, where's the best place for them to go?
Erik Fisher 44:19
Best place is at beyondthetodolist.com, that's where you can find all the new shows coming out weekly and all the back catalogue.
Jeremy Cline 44:28
Brilliant, links to those will be in the show notes. Erik, thank you so much for coming on the podcast.
Erik Fisher 44:33
Thank you for having me. Great to be here.
Jeremy Cline 44:35
Okay, hope you enjoyed that interview with Erik Fisher of Beyond the To-Do List. One of the biggest challenges I have when it comes to these tools and apps is seeing something and thinking, 'Oh, I can see how that would be useful.' What I don't always consider is how it's actually going to be useful for me. Is it something that I'll use on a regular basis? I remember listening to an interview with someone who designed digital tools, and they said that their goal was to make it something which you used as often as you used your toothbrush. And that is actually quite a good test. Is it something that you're going to use that frequently? I also loved what Erik said about thinking being a tool, because let's face it, how often do you spend time just sitting and thinking about something? I know it's something I don't do nearly enough. And I guess that's just because we're brought up to believe that sitting and thinking, it looks like you're doing nothing, that sitting thinking isn't productive, it isn't effective, it's not busy. Whereas in point of fact, it's something which really can increase your productiveness and your effectiveness, if you just take that bit of time to start out thinking what it is you're trying to achieve. The show notes for this episode are on the Change Work Life website at changeworklife.com/157, that's changeworklife.com/157. And I haven't mentioned this for a little while, but I'd love it if you'd leave a review for the podcast. Reviews are a critical part of whether I decide whether or not the tool is worth my while. And the same is true of podcasts. If people see that show has good reviews, then they're more likely to think that it's something that's worth their time. The best place to leave a review is on Apple podcasts, something that's really easy to do if you've got an iPhone. If you haven't, well, it's a slightly more challenging way to do it, but it's not that hard, so please go ahead, you'll be really helping me out, leave a review for the show, and if it's not going to be a five-star review, get in touch and let me know why not. As always, there's another great show coming up in two weeks' time, so make sure you're subscribed to the podcast if you haven't already, and I can't wait to see you in two weeks' time. Cheers. Bye.
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